What many of you might not know is that curry can be considered one of Japan's national dishes due to its popularity. It is served with rice, noodles or even as a soup and can be made with an incredible range of ingredients. This extremely widespread dish was introduced by the British back in the 19th century (the British Navy used to add curry powder to their otherwise traditional stews) and has become a more Westernized version of Indian curry as a result. Curry rice is probably the most popular kind (so much so that it is commonly just called curry) and is usually made with beef, pork or chicken and vegetables like carrots, potatoes and onions (but peas and mushrooms are popular too). Although it was originally cooked by preparing a roux with flour, oil and curry powder, nowadays adding instant roux - sold in blocks or powder - to the meat and vegetable stew is the most common way to make it. The blocks look like chocolate bars and come in varying degrees of spiciness: mild, medium hot and very hot.
The first time I had Japanese curry was in the early Nineties. My flatmate had sublet her room for the summer, I was still finishing my last exams at university before summer vacation, and so for a few weeks I crossed paths with a sweet, shy Japanese girl called Keiko. She was in Milan for the summer to study fashion design and one evening she said she would make us dinner. Those were the days when there were two, maybe three Japanese restaurants in town. The Japanese food trend had not caught on yet and the strange ingredients (raw fish! seaweed!) and high prices were eyed suspiciously by my friends. When a craving for sushi hit I usually went out to dinner with an English friend but it was not something we could do that often on a student budget. Naturally, I was over the moon at the thought of eating authentic Japanese food right in my very own kitchen.
|A more liquid version you could eat with noodles|
The last thing I expected upon entering the apartment, however, was the smell of curry. Keiko smiled at my surprised expression and explained it was one of her family's favorite meals. I dug in enthusiastically and loved it from the first bite.
Since then it has become a favorite of mine too. Back in the day I had to go to the only Japanese food store around to buy it and it was quite pricey. Now I can pretty much buy it in any Asian grocery (which have sprung up like mushrooms alongside the many Japanese restaurants in the city - there are at least 6 of them in a 5 minute walking radius from our apartment now) for under 5 euro and can whip up an authentic Japanese meal in under an hour!
It is one of those perfect pantry items to always have handy: it is simple to make, it is a crowd pleaser and an inexpensive and easy option to feed a large group. If you are not a meat lover, you can make a vegetarian/pescatarian version with shrimp or your favorite vegetables.
Ingredients (serves 8)*
1 box/240gr curry sauce mix
1kg/about 2lbs meat (chicken, beef, pork or other)
750gr/2-3 large onions, peeled and chopped
250gr/about 2 large carrots, peeled
300gr/2-3 potatoes, peeled
1.4ml/6 cups water
Cut the meat, carrots and potatoes into bite-size pieces. Use enough oil to cover the base of your pot and heat it. Stir fry meat and previously chopped onions until browned. Add the carrots and potatoes and cook for a few more minutes, then add the water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until meat and vegetables are tender. Break the curry sauce mix into pieces and stir into the stew until completely melted. Simmer for a little while longer. Serve over rice.
* The box suggests this amount serves 12 but I made it for seven (of which three were children - albeit starving ones) as a main course after a light starter and it was the perfect amount (there was about a portion left over). I will admit it was a hungry crowd and that we had multiple servings each, but consider yourselves warned.